"So what are you doing with yourself nowadays?"
Do you dread that question as much as I do?
“Whatever happened to your “book”?
I especially love that one as the room goes quiet and everyone turns to listen.
"It isn't a book!" I want to shout. "It's a manuscript!"
Two different animals, as an agent at the Columbus Writers Conference pointed out to me several years ago in a breakout session. “Your manuscript isn't a book,” she said, “until it has a Library of Congress ISBN number.”
That's an important distinction and one I've never forgotten.
But what I wanted to tell you is that I've just found a way to answer these innocent questions truthfully without sloaching into a corner. Thanks to a wonderful article by Cecilia Ward Jones, The Art of Perseverance, in the current issue Poets and Writers, I know now to proudly say, “I'm editing my novel. Yes, the one you read (insert appropriate number) __years ago.”
I must say, the weight of expectation shifted when I read the story of her writing experience, one so similar to my own. Not everyone goes to college right out of high school, making the seamless transistion to an MFA program and publication of their first novel before they're thirty. Most aren't even lucky enough to do it before they're forty. It's OK to have gotten married and had children first. It's OK to realize accidently that what you've really wanted to do all along was write. And it is especially OK to spend years editing a novel.
At the same time, however, it is not OK to cower in a room with the door closed, past the time when your manuscript is ready, mindlessly editing for the sake of editing, afraid to put yourself out there and move onto the next step, afraid to hit send. So how do we know when our manuscripts are ready? How do we make the distinction between jumping the gun and procrastinating our life away? I suspect that when you reach the point where you're only making minor changes, you're close, and when you’re satisfied that it's as good as you can get it, send out a round of queries,then immediately start a new writing project. I’m convinced it’s the only way to survive the inevitable rejections that will start pouring in, because they will.
I know. I've been there. I queried before I was ready and paid the price. Unable to make the distinction, I ignored the don't rush advice from those I should've listened to.
But I persevered. I survived a move, a broken computer and lost pages. I survived rejection and discovered the pleasure of editing. Cutting and polishing a manuscript is addictive. Reducing that word count instead of increasing it is highly addictive. As Andrea Cremer wisely advised, you have to take word count literally . . . make sure that every . . . word . . . counts.
And one day you and I will get “the call”. One day you won’t see the hated “however” in the first sentence of an agent’s reply. I’m convinced of that as well. For myself and for all of you who refuse to give up.
In the meantime I’ve rediscovered I can write short stories. Even Flash Fiction. I’ve dug out a few rough drafts from college. They don't pass the cringe test but they contain ideas. And that’s a start. An idea that becomes character, conflict, and resolution.
There are dozens of literary magazines and university presses out there calling for submission of poems and short stories. Some even pay you. Winter is the season to submit. There’s even a call for submission of one-sentence stories from Monkeybicycle. (Wrap your head around that one.) I gained confidence after having a short story accepted by Bloody Bridge Review for a February issue. (They’re a new online journal seeking submissions.) So while I’m editing my manuscript, I’m going to start submitting shorts like crazy. And poems. Like crazy! Tis the season.
One final note, don’t forget about Simon and Carolina's contest. Rules. Prizes. You have until the 31st (midnight tomorrow!!)to polish those thousand words and the prizes are tight. Don’t be square and miss out.
One final note as I say goodbye to January, I’ve noticed a lot of bloggers have been listing five things that make them happy. I like to be different.
I give you five things I wish I had, from the absurd to the just-out-of-reach.
A lemon tree
A widow’s walk
What are yours? And where are you submitting??